Ankara’s long arm? German DİTİB branch embroiled in a spying affair targeting Gülenists

A deteriorating relationship

In recent months, the relationship between German authorities and DİTİB, the country’s largest and Turkish-dominated Muslim association, has taken a severe drubbing.

For close to three decades, DİTİB used to be the German government’s preferred cooperation partner in Islamic religious affairs: outsourcing the religious needs of the country’s Muslim population to DİTİB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), was a convenient way to ensure that a quietist albeit conservative Islamicality was propagated in DİTİB’s 1,000 mosques in Germany.

Yet especially since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, DİTİB has fallen out of favour. As diplomatic relations between Germany and the Erdoğan government have soured, German politicians have been accusing DİTİB of being a pawn of the Turkish government. As a result, calls have been voiced demanding an end to the cooperation with DİTİB in areas such as Islamic religious education for Muslim youth attending public schools.

DİTİB’s role in the anti-Gülenist crackdown

DİTİB’s German critics have now received ample new ammunition in their fight. The press has analysed DİTİB’s bylaws, pointing to the extensive prerogatives enjoyed by Turkish government representatives, especially with regards to personnel choices.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/satzung-des-islamverbands-ditib-tuerkische-funktionaere.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375487 ))

Even more momentously, however, DİTİB has been embroiled in a spying affair targeting suspected sympathisers of the Gülenist hizmet movement. The Turkish government holds the Gülen responsible for orchestrating July’s coup attempt. Some of DİTİB’s Imams have apparently followed an order by Diyanet to gather information on Gülen supporters in their localities, passing on their findings to Turkish authorities.

DİTİB had already been scrutinised for its role in anti-Gülenist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the attempted putsch. Back then, flyers defaming Gülenists as “traitors of the fatherland” had been put up in a DİTİB mosque. At the time, the backlash faced by DİTİB prompted the association to vow greater independence from the Turkish government.

Reports sent back to Ankara

Such independence, however, appears difficult to attain for DİTİB. In September 2016, Diyanet “urgently requested” Turkish consulates abroad to collect information on the Gülen organisation and its schools, housing units, NGOs, or cultural associations.

Some of DİTİB’s Imams appear to have followed up on these orders: at least three clerics from Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Lower Saxony compiled reports on suspected Gülenist activities in their regions and sent them back to Ankara.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Basing himself on the content of these reports, Green Party politician Volker Beck has now filed a lawsuit against DİTİB with the Federal Prosecutor, accusing DİTİB of having illegally spied on supposed Gülenists living in Germany.

DİTİB’s shifting reaction to the allegations

DİTİB initially denied the spying accusations as “remote from reality” and as the product of a “manipulative and untrue” anti-DİTİB campaign.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ )) Subsequently, however, the secretary general of DİTİB in Germany, Bekir Alboğa, conceded that some DİTİB Imams had collected and passed on information.

Alboğa stressed, however, that this was not a systematic policy but the result of the “misguided” action of a few Imams only. He asserted that DİTİB “deeply regrets this mishap”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/ditib-bedauert-spitzel-affaere-aid-1.6528628 ))

In a follow-up statement on DİTİB’s website, Alboğa then denied that his statements constituted an admission of “spying”. He asserted that his organisation was “continuing to strive for a transparent resolution” of the case.(( http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=560&lang=de ))

Defending DİTİB

Other voices from the Muslim and Turkish community have also commented these developments. When the spying accusations were first made public in December 2016, the secretary general of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, came to DİTİB’s defence, asserting that DİTİB’s Imams “deserved respect and recognition”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ ))

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoğlu, demanded that potential spying activities be investigated. Yet he also asserted that DİTİB was made up of “many people and a large number of officials” seeking to change the organisation’s structures for the better. Not all of them ought to be tarred with the same brush, or so Sofuoğlu asserted.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Political ramifications

The Federal Prosecutor himself has been slow to act upon the lawsuit brought against DİTİB. This has sparked the anger of Beck and others, who accuse the Prosecutor of pandering to political interests.

In their view, delaying investigations into DİTİB’s activities might be a means to prevent further damage to German-Turkish relations – relations particularly salient in a context where German politicians depend on President Erdoğan for sealing the border to Europe in order to stem the flow migrants.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Indeed, political decision-makers themselves have not dramatically altered their stance vis-à-vis DİTİB. The North-Rhine Westphalian (NRW) state government, for instance, long at the forefront of a more ambitious cooperation between German authorities and DİTİB, expressed its will to continue its work with DİTİB in spite of the spying affair.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Erosion of legitimacy of Muslim associations

Nevertheless, even the NRW government announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into DİTİB’s linkages with the Turkish state. And NRW’s Minister President, Hannelore Kraft, also rejected DİTİB’s ambitions to be formally recognised as a religious community or a corporation of public law.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Many Christian churches as well as other religious bodies are holders of these formal legal titles, which confer a host of financial, social, and political benefits set to facilitate the religious life of these communities.

Despite being the country’s second-largest faith group, Muslims have so far not been able to obtain such recognition, with the exception of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in the state of Hesse. DİTİB’s embroilment in the anti-Gülenist spying affair further erodes the legitimacy of Germany’s Islamic associations and thus hampers the ability of German Muslims to attain legal parity within the country’s legal framework.

France to invest $47 million in Sahel counterterrorism training program

France plans to invest 42 million euros ($47 million) to help countries of Africa’s Sahel region prepare to face jihadist attacks similar to those that killed dozens in Paris in 2015, an interior ministry official said on Friday.

The Sahel, a politically fragile region whose remote desert spaces host a medley of jihadist groups, is seen as vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year.

Nearby Senegal, a Western security partner with a long history of stability, has so far been spared.

“In future we will train all the countries of the G5 Sahel and Senegal with 42 million Euros in financing, including 24 million Euros for equipment,” said a spokeswoman for Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve during his visit to Dakar on Friday.

G5 Sahel is a regional security organisation composed of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania. The investment period is 2017-2022, the spokeswoman added.

French riot control officers from the CRS are currently in Senegal for a month training Senegalese police forces to combat urban attacks on soft targets ahead of the broader programme.

In the simulation exercise watched by Cazeneuve as well as army elites and foreign diplomats, Senegalese police arrived swiftly on the scene after masked jihadists killed three students before holing up with hostages inside a university bus.

The jihadists were killed and the remaining hostages released and given medical treatment in the drill.

“We have reinforced police cooperation so that the first ones on the scene, the specialized forces, can intervene in case of mass murder with a highly efficient response,” said Cazeneuve in a speech shortly after the demonstration.

Former colonial power France retains a military presence in Senegal with 350 soldiers. A much larger force of 3,500 is spread across Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to hunt down jihadists.

Senegal’s ally the United States has also boosted military cooperation with the country and this year signed a cooperation agreement to ease the deployment of American troops there.

 

Majority of jihadis have mental health problems

More than half of the jihadis travelling to Syria have mental health problems. Often these problems already existed before their traveling and radicalization. In 1/5 of the cases the jihadi suffers from a serious condition, such as schizophrenia.

This is the conclusion of a research on 140 documents. Thereby it is often thought that jihadi’s are intelligent people, but the research concluded that they often received low or now education, have been homeless and come from broken families.

The researcher provides no one-size-fits-all solution. It seems that every individual needs a separate one. More cooperation between police and mental health institutions is preferable.

EU focuses on monitoring local jihadists

February 12, 2014

 

Side meetings and consultations are no longer enough to contain the phenomenon of foreign fighters in Syria. Thus, the EU counterterrorism department held a first-of-its-kind meeting for European security officers with their counterparts in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, in addition to states involved in the issue, including countries in the Arab Maghreb.

Due to the meeting’s security nature, the Europeans didn’t announce it or mention any details about the issues discussed. But a source in the EU counterterrorism department confirmed to As-Safir that the meeting did take place, explaining that the meeting of security experts was the first step for establishing a permanent platform for cooperation among countries concerned with the phenomenon of foreign jihadists. The meeting was attended by three Lebanese officers from various security agencies.

According to what a high-level diplomatic official told As-Safir, the meeting, although it was the first one, explored ways for security coordination, which the Europeans are seeking to contain the threat. Since the security agencies of Syria’s neighbors have experience with this phenomenon, the Europeans hope to benefit from their experience in identifying and monitoring potential jihadists before they travel, in addition to the possibility of launching a kind of “early warning system” to identify young Western suspects before Western agencies issue memos about their disappearance. The Europeans are now testing that alarm system in security cooperation with Turkey, especially since the chaos on Turkey’s border made that country the main gateway for fighters.

The West is increasingly afraid of jihadists returning. At first, the West showed signs of anxiety and restlessness. Then Europeans announced that the issue was a major threat to the security of European countries. Estimates vary about the number of European jihadists, with the latest number exceeding 2,000 fighters.

The security experts meeting in Brussels came in the context of those growing fears. The meeting was chaired by EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, who started preparing for this meeting a few months ago. A source close to him said the meeting is just the beginning, explaining, “We will try to invest all areas of cooperation with these countries. And we will continue to work on high-level meetings.”

European efforts to meet the challenge of returning jihadists became public in June 2013, when de Kerchove presented his first proposals report to European interior ministers. Last month, the European Commission issued recommendations for European countries on how to deal with the phenomenon. Among the key recommendations was to strengthen cooperation with the countries of the “other party,” i.e., states through which the jihadists pass.

Observers of European counterterrorism efforts assert that there have been many undeclared communications. In this context, a Lebanese security official met with European security officials in Brussels last October. They discussed how to coordinate about the phenomenon of Western jihadists. Other than that, there are lower-level meetings that come in the framework of the usual coordination between security agencies.

That issue will soon be part of the big meetings and their official speeches. A meeting on the foreign fighters phenomenon will fill the seats of an international conference in The Hague at the end of this month. The meeting will have large international participation. As the world pays more and more attention to this issue, Syria is approaching formal accession to the states that export terrorism.

This month saw a significant shift in US discourse on this issue. It came with unprecedented warnings launched by US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He said there’s evidence of training camps in Syria to “train people to to go back to their countries and conduct terrorist acts [there].” According to Clapper, the party behind that is the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra.

Before that, there were warnings about only the possibility of jihadists returning, but not about specific plans to send fighters back to their countries as terrorists.

This shift was followed by similar warnings. After Clapper’s testimony, US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that the threat posed by returning jihadists has made the Syrian war an issue affecting US internal security.

There are no accurate numbers on foreign jihadists in Syria, but US intelligence estimated there were at least 7,500 foreign fighters of 50 nationalities.

 

Al-Monitor: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/02/europe-foreign-jihadists-syria-local-threat.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=c0581bafdc-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-c0581bafdc-93074789#

Cooperation of the State North Rhine-Westphalia with Muslims

Sep 17th

 

The Minister of Integration in the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Guntram Schneider (SPD) has announced the constitution of the dfi “dialogue forum Islam”. It will be represented by members of Muslim associations and the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The dfi will consult the State dealing with issues such as Muslim life in Germany.

 

The program will last three years until 2016. Issues will emphasize “pluralism of Islam” and “security for Muslims”. Furthermore the dfi will be involved in issues such as Islamic funeral ceremonies, prevention of extremism, Islamophobia, welfare and care of the elderly for Muslims.

According to the Minister Schneider, the State will be discussing the recognition of Islamic associations as corporations under public law.

 

Aiman Mazyek, chair of the central council of Muslims in Germany and speaker of the cooperation council of Muslims underlined the determination to support every attempt for the institutional equalization of Islamic associations and communities. Yilmaz Karahan representative of the Alawites in Germany expressed the hopes of his community for more cooperation and dialogue through the forum.

 

The dfi will be represented by two, constantly represented groups of parties. The first group includes all members of the coordination council of Muslims: The Turkish-Islamic Union Institute of Religion (DITIB), the Islam Council of Germany, the association of Islamic centers of culture (VIKZ), the central council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and the Alawite community of Germany. The second group is represented by the Ministries of North Rhine-Westphalia and policy experts. Criteria for membership in the dfi is the ability to present a comprehensive coverage of community structure across the State.

 

The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia counts a Muslim population of 1.5 Millions. The total population of Muslims in Germany is about 4.3 Millions. Thus the headquarters of the biggest Islamic associations are based in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Scottish Church Opens Doors To Muslim Community

18 March 2013

 

A Scottish Episcopal Church in Aberdeen is now open for members of the local Muslim community to pray alongside Christians, a decision that has been hailed as an unprecedented example of inter-faith cooperation in the United Kingdom. Rev. Isaac Poobalan, rector of St. John’s Church in Aberdeen, made the decision to allow more than 100 Muslims to pray in portions of his church after witnessing dozens of Muslims praying outside of the nearby Syed Shah Mustafa Jame Masjid mosque due to overcrowding. Regarding his decision, Rev. Poobalan said, “Religion does not play a role when it comes to friendship and hospitality.”

 

Though similar arrangements have been made in the United States, this is thought to be the first time that an active church in the UK has been used as a place for Muslim worship. Said a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, “I’ve never heard of this before, of any other case where active churches are also used as mosques.”

The Ministers of Internal Affairs of Spain, Morocco, France and Portugal sign the “Rabat Declaration”

25 January 2013

The Ministers of Internal Affairs of Morocco, France, Spain and Portugal signed in Rabat the ‘Rabat Declaration’ in which they materialize a closer police cooperation among the four countries.
The statement was expressed in four main areas: management of migration flows, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism (with special attention to the Sahel region and its consequences), police cooperation and training.

Spain reinforces its cooperation with France to fight against Jihad

The Directors of the National Police and the Civil Guard, Ignacio Cosidó and Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa , respectively, attended in Paris the III Strategic Franco-Spanish Security Committee. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, this committee controls different Security Forces in Spain and France in order to coordinate and plan joint action by the services of the two countries in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.
In connection with international terrorism, the importance of combating the radical jihadist phenomenon, particularly in the Sahel was highlighted. It has agreed to establish a flow of information between research teams from both countries to track this problem in an optimal way via the Internet.

US synagogue welcomes Muslims seeking a place to pray

Muslims around the world are gathering for Friday prayers, and in one neighbourhood in the US state of Virginia, the worshippers will enter a building that could hardly be further from a traditional mosque.

At a time when religious differences are sparking conflict in the Middle East and beyond – it is cooperation between two faiths which is allowing this unique programme flourish.

The BBC’s Katty Kay reports on how the Jewish community opened its doors because the area’s mosques could not accommodate all of the growing Muslim population.

Mosque bearing Moroccan king’s name opens in France

News Agencies – June 21, 2012

A new mosque bearing the name of Moroccan King Mohamed VI is now open in France amid praise of the cooperation of the French authorities. The president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman), Mohammed Moussaoui, inaugurated the Mohamed VI Mosque in the southwestern French city of Saint-Étienne. The mosque, built on an area of 10,000 square meters, boosts a 14-meter high minaret and accommodates more than 1,000 worshippers.

The mosque bears the name of Moroccan king Mohamed VI who donated five million Euros of the total eight million of the construction cost. The mosque includes a cultural center which is intended to act like a branch of the famous Paris-based Arab World Institute.

The construction of the mosque, said Moussaoui, offered a proof of the cooperation of French authorities with the Muslim community in France to promote freedom of worship.

The Saint-Étienne mosque joins a long list of French mosques whose numbers have been on the rise in the past few years. In 2005, the number of mosques whose area exceeded 1,000 square meters was only 34 while now the number has reached 200. Mosques in France are usually funded by donations from members of the Muslim community in France in case of small mosques while big mosques are usually funded by other Muslim countries especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey.